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slide images magic lantern

VMI, Inc.

Ever since humans first looked at and recognized shadows, we have been interested in projected images. Early in the prehistory of moving-image photography, there was a fascination with the process of image projection. The magic lantern was invented by Athanasius Kircher in about 1640. In his book Ars Magna Lucis et Umbrae , first published in 1645, Kircher outlines the principles of the magic lantern. His magic lantern was a rear-screen projection show with images projected against translucent fabrics. The projected images were transparent figures that were hand-painted on glass strips. The areas around the transparent figures were heavily painted and appeared opaque. By changing the glass strips, Kircher’s figures appeared and disappeared. When the lanternist moved the lantern closer to and farther from the projection screen, the images seemed to change their size and form, and when the lantern was dimmed or partially covered, the figures would seem to fade away. The exhibition/performance of magic lantern shows was considered entertainment, not much different than the motion picture today.

The phantasmagoria evolved from the magic lantern show. It too was a rear-screen projection entertainment event with sound effects, fade-ins, and dissolves. There were even X-rated striptease phantasmagoria. The use of concave mirrors and projected aerial images added to the idea of the fantastic and magical adventure. Peepshows, panoramas, and dioramas were extensions of the phantasmagoria and a fascination with perspective, lenses, light, and projection. Some of the dioramas were elaborate room-sized camera obscuras displaying painted canvases manipulated with light projected on the canvas or through translucent painted images on translucent fabric. Unfortunately, the light effects were not always manageable or consistent because of natural ambient light. The attempt to mirror reality turned some of the exhibitions into “performance art.” In Daguerre’s View of Mont Blanc a real chalet and barn were introduced into the diorama, and for an added touch of reality a goat eating hay was included. This innovation was not an overwhelming success; it was perhaps a bit too soon for audience participation.

The magic lantern slide show evolved into a form of traveling entertainment, where an itinerant magic lanternist carried a hand organ and a magic lantern with slides and went door to door soliciting for places to arrange a private magic lantern show. In the early 1800s the Galantee show became a popular form of entertainment, an amusement similar to hiring a performer for a private party. The entertainment was provided by a team of two; one playing music on an organ while the other projected slides.

Long strips of hand-painted slides were passed slowly in front of the magic lantern lens and gave the viewer a sense of motion. Panoramic comic strip slides added to the levity of the entertainment, while slipping slides and lever slides continued the progress toward the development of a moving image. Rack-work slide projection could simulate movement and rotation and even simulate continuous movement, such as smoke rising from a chimney.

The magic lantern slide images were not always hand-drawn and hand-painted images. By the late 1850s magic lantern slides were also photographically produced and then often, but not always, hand-colored. The photographic process was becoming increasingly popular as a means of producing images for the magic lanterns. Drawings and engravings were also photographically reproduced as slides for the magic lanterns. The amateur photographers were encouraged to make their own photographic slides. So popular was the interest and production of slides and slide shows that the Crystal Palace presented slide shows daily throughout the 1880s and 1890s.

Two major slide publishers in London ran exhibition galleries where thousands of slides were available for viewing. Most slide publishers manufactured and sold hand viewers, usually constructed of mahogany with adjustable eyepieces, for looking at the transparencies so that they could be evaluated without the need to project them. The dealers sold the magic lantern slides either plain or colored, and if the customer wanted to personally paint the slides, a set of transparent slide painting pigments could also be purchased.

The original, single-candle japanned tin lanterns gave way to more ornate models. The drawing-room version was made of mahogany with brass fittings on the highly polished lacquered doors. Some magic lanterns had multiple chimney arrangements. The single candle was replaced by oil lanterns, then by gas, and finally by electricity.

There were a variety of slide-changing mechanisms. The Metamorphoser allowed one slide to be withdrawn as another slide replaced it. Another device had a descending curtain-like object lower between the changing slides and an endless loop device projected rapidly changing panoramas. Stacked or multiple lens magic lantern projectors provided an early multimedia-style slide show. This was possible by turning up the flame of one lantern (brightness control) while lowering the flame of another; the images appeared to fade in and out from one to the other. A day scene turned into a night scene was the most common change. Second in frequency of occurrence was a black and white image dissolving into a full color version of the same image. Live models were photographed in the real world or against a painted background scene, not unlike a Hollywood movie today. The use of photographic superimposition created a new visual vocabulary for the slide show, showing the audience a thought or an idea either by projecting one image onto another or producing a multiple combination print and then converting it into a slide for projection.

The motion-picture projector came about through the evolution of image-projecting toys coupled with the magic lantern. The Projecting Phenakistoscope used a disc of images that revolved across a shutter-like device in front of a magic lantern, projecting a smooth moving sequence. This shutter-like device was key to the smoothing of action in projected imagery and led to the development of contemporary motion-picture projectors. The Thaumatrope used a disc containing two or more images placed around the center that was twirled by two attached strings. The result is a single image that combines the separate images into one. By adjusting the tension on the string while the discs are spinning, the speed of rotation and the visual effect can be changed. The Zoetrope was another persistence-of-vision toy capable of depicting the illusion of motion. A large, thin-walled metal drum with slits in the sides, capable of revolving easily around a pivot point at its base axis, is spun around very quickly. Inside the drum is mounted a long, narrow strip of photographic images or drawings that simulate a sequence of some simple action. The viewer, looking through one of the slits in the revolving drum, sees a moving image.

Other devices somewhat similar to the Zoetrope added to the number of toys that projected or displayed moving images. The Praxinoscope Theatre is a toy with two concentric rotating drums and a strip of images rotating on the inside of the outer drum. These rotating images were reflected on pieces of glass in the center drum, which also contained a stationary section that held little pieces of scenery. To the eye, the stationary scenery became the background over which the reflected moving images of the large drum danced. The Viviscope and the Tachyscope were also based upon the Zoetrope. The use of instantaneous photography, when combined with the principles learned from the magic lantern projection devices and coupled with the persistence-of-vision toys, led to the development of the motion picture.

The projected image is a performance activity that is intended to communicate with and involve the audience. Unlike the single photograph, slide shows and motion pictures provide, if viewing conditions are ideal, an intense, fully saturated color image far superior to that of a photographic print. Coupled with sound, scale, and a visually captured audience (since there is nothing else to look at), projected images are an especially effective communication medium. But all projected images are not equal, nor are they necessarily works of art. An overhead projected image may assist in lectures and demonstrations, but it is not as compelling as a slide show or film. Projection in this instance is for presenting information in visual form; the sole purpose of the projected image is to reach a larger audience with less effort and at the least possible cost for the desired effect.

With the introduction of Kodachrome transparency film in 1935, it was only natural that Kodak make a system specifically for what would become one of the most popular forms of image presentation. In 1940 the Kodaslide Projector was introduced and the modern “slide projector” was born. Technology marched slowly until the introduction of the Kodak Carousel system in 1960. No longer at the mercy of low-capacity straight slide trays, or even single slide feed mechanisms, the circular Carousel tray provided the capacity to store and automatically show 80 slides at a time (later expanded to 140 slides in slim mounts).

The sequential still image slide show and filmstrip became the industrial and educational standard for many years, and although the multimedia slide show had been around in one form or another since before the turn of the century, it was not until the development of the sound tape/slide synchronizer that the multi-image slide show became popular. The early 1970s saw the introduction of the slide programmer, which had the ability to do quick cuts and varied dissolves. The late 1970s produced the electronic programmer, which permitted
more sophisticated effects, with easier and faster programming and with the ability to control several projectors at once with a single control.

As the programming became easier to control, the photographic and projection techniques became more complex. The electronic programmer gave way to the microcomputer, which made it possible to control several banks of slide projectors, motion-picture projectors, lighting, and sound effects. These new more sophisticated multi-image shows with multiscreen projection began to take advantage of varied perspectives and close-up and panoramic vistas of the same subject side by side; essentially a multiviewpoint show.

However, as microcomputer technology advanced, so did the ability to capture and manage images digitally. By 1986 the first commercial projectors employing LCD imaging engines started to appear. This made it possible to connect a computer signal and project a digital image directly from the LCD, thus eliminating the need for slide film. Of course these early systems were unwieldy, relatively low quality, and expensive, which meant they were used primarily for industrial applications. But by 1991 the concept of getting photographs easily digitized and viewing them on a television was a reality with the introduction of the Photo CD. Digital imaging evolved and with improvements in technology, digital resolution became acceptable for the masses. Viewing and sharing images on a computer display became so common that Kodak discontinued the slide projector in 1994. While slide film and transparencies are still used for professional applications, the ability to project digitally is not only a standard for industrial purposes, it is also found in many commercial and consumer applications. New technology like digital light projection (DLP) expands the versatility of digital projectors to not only handle still images, but movie theater projection as well.

Regardless of the technology employed, some practical issues must be considered to ensure an ideal presentation. The projection equipment should be set up before the audience arrives, the sound tested, and the projectors focused and aligned, especially if more than one projector is to be used. Extra projection lamps, extension cords, flashlight, and gaffer tape should be part of the equipment carried to any projection location. If possible, the projectors should be isolated from the audience with a soundproof booth. If that is not possible, then the projectors should be as far behind the audience as is physically possible. With noisy equipment in the room with the audience, sound-absorbing partitions or screens should surround the equipment. For informational presentations that contain text and numbers, the audience should be no farther away than 8 times the screen height. If the text is larger than standard size or the program content is entirely pictorial, the screen-to-audience distance can be increased to 14 times the screen height.

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